Adobe CS3: Still cannot apply the ‘Save’ command to an unsaved document

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
March 20th, 2008 • 3:59 pm

This is really quite extraordinary. Twenty-five years ago, Apple introduced the Macintosh and the Mac OS, with a whole slew of new conventions for the design of computer applications.

One of these conventions had to do with how applications would save documents created by the user. If the user used the application to create a new document, this document would be in an unsaved state (i.e. not stored anywhere on a disk) until the user took the steps required to save it.

Applications were supposed to have two commands in their “File” menu: a “Save” command and a “Save As…” command.

The “Save As…” command was meant to be used to save the document under a new file name in a new location, whereas the “Save” command was meant to provide a single step to save an already saved document in its new state in the same location with the same file name, i.e. to replace the currently saved version of the document with the new version.

But this “Save” command was also meant to work for documents that had not yet been saved by the user, i.e. that did not yet exist under any name anywhere on disk. For such documents, the “Save” document was simply supposed to behave exactly like the “Save As…” command, i.e. it was supposed to bring up the dialog box asking the user to specify the desired file name and location for saving.

And indeed, that is the way that it has always worked and still works in the overwhelming majority of Mac OS applications that have “Save” and “Save As…” commands.

Yet would you believe that Adobe’s CS3 applications for Mac OS X, even after all these years, still do not follow this convention?

In Photoshop CS3 or Illustrator CS3, after you create a new blank document from scratch, the “Save” command in the “File” menu is disabled and the only command available is “Save As…” This means that you are forced to remember to use the command-shift-S keyboard shortcut in order to save this new document, because the command-S shortcut does not work at all!

It is really unbelievable. I am not a heavy CS3 user and most of the time I work with existing files instead of creating new files from scratch. So it is not something that I notice every day in my work. But still… how can Adobe justify their failure to comply with this very basic Mac convention that all other Mac OS applications have been following since the very beginning, 25 years ago?

(Microsoft is not completely outdone in that department. The two commands work as expected, but the command-shift-S keyboard shortcut does not work as expected. Instead, it is used for a styles-related command. You have to manually change the command assigned to the shortcut after installing the application.)

6 Responses to “Adobe CS3: Still cannot apply the ‘Save’ command to an unsaved document”

  1. henryn says:


    I use AI CS3 reasonably often. I can’t confirm your result.

    Here’s what I did:

    I launched AI, waited for everything to get settled, then selected File–>New. In the New Document dialog, I accepted the default, in particular a name of “Untitled-1”. I drew something, then I looked at the File menu. Both “Save” and “Save As” are active. Both these menu items lead to the same “Save As” dialog, which I take to mean “the content has never been saved to disk”.

    Is that equivalent to your sequence?

    Now, I’m going to quibble slightly with your complaint. I feel that Apple conventions are as well-researched as I’ve seen for any user interface, computer or otherwise; they are almost always consistent and the “best” way of handling a particular task. (In vernacular, the Apple design is stewed-down pretty well.) Thus, the design is very well deserving of respect, or put another way, being held up as a standard.

    The departure from “standard” behavior you’ve discovered in CS3 just doesn’t seem significant to me. It _might_ actually represent an improvement, albeit slight. No design is so perfect that it can’t be adjusted later on. It’s now “later on”.

    The key to me is if a UI modification really does meet the tests of consistency and being the “best” way to handle a particular task. I think it is fairly obvious when a “new” UI meets these tests. That’s unfortunately thanks to a vendor you and I know that seems quite oblivious of the tests, apparently assigning junior, inexperienced people to update applications, secure in the fact that they have a monopoly. If the changes don’t work out, they can sell a new update to users next time around.

    One major vendor of this type is more than sufficient. We can only hope that Adobe is not going to follow this example. So far, so good.


  2. Pierre Igot says:

    I guess the problem is more specific: You cannot use the “Save” command until you’ve actually started drawing/writing something in the file. My usual workflow is that I create a new document and then go to save it right away, which is why I was encountering the problem. The “Save” command is disabled until you start adding some content to the file. But since the very act of creating a new file in a CS3 application involves setting a number of parameters (page layout in InDesign, picture file in Photoshop, etc.), it does not make sense not to be able to save right away. I guess Adobe’s view is that, as long as you haven’t drawn/typed anything, you haven’t actually “created” anything and the settings you’ve already set are not worth saving.

    I obviously still don’t agree with this approach, but you are correct that the problem is not as severe as I initially described it.

  3. henryn says:

    Oh… THAT. There’s a unique, independent “New Document” dialog. I’m going to concentrate on Adobe Illustrator “AI” because I’m most familiar with it.

    Here’s my take: In the Mac design, Apple worked hard early on and came up with a model that each application creates documents specific to itself, and –in general– a new document is well-defined.

    Most exceptions can be taken care of by a few simple measures. One would be preference settings for new documents. Another would be simple n-way choice, such as I recall seeing in “Works” style applications –which I rarely use– choosing either a WP, or a spreadsheet, or a database document, (or whatever), each of which is well-defined.

    I think this is a pretty good model, valid for the majority of applications and for the needs of the majority of users. But it isn’t perfect . This model does not account for cases in which some users will want to make sophisticated choices about what a new document is going to look like. (Take a close look at the AI “New Document” dialog. It’s got a number of choices, plus an optional “Advanced” section.)

    That’s a perfectly understandable possibility for some Adobe Illustrator users, and probably this applies to the other CS3 applications.

    Could Adobe have offered a preference setting that sidesteps this unique “New Document” dialog? Sure, but I don’t blame them for not doing it — for purely practical reasons. You simply cannot continue implementing options without limit.

    Could the choices offered in the AI “New Document” dialog have been pushed, well, downstream? Yes. Well, Maybe. Hmmm, I don’t know. Intuitively, I get the feeling that doing so could force other, perhaps more difficult constraints on the software and/or the user. All things considered, I think presenting these options at the creation of a New Document is a reasonable thing to do.

    What if Adobe had simply omitted the opportunity to select the file name in the “New Document” dialog”? I think that would address your issue, and it would keep the model a bit more pure.

    I’m all for purity in use models. Really! But I’m also convinced that excepting simple applications, absolute purity is probably impossible to achieve.

    Keep in mind that Apple could have virtually forbidden “New Document” dialogs. That certainly would have prevented this issue from occurring. I think it is admirable that Apple did not go in that direction. But of course, that opens up the possibility that someone will misuse this freedom.

    The best I hope for is that vendors and their implementation teams will make reasoned and conscious decisions about when to accept less than perfection in an implementation, in the use model we u7sers must follow.

    In the case of AI, I don’t think I’ll ever benefit from this wrinkle. However, I can definitely imagine situations in which the AI “New Document” dialog would significantly simplify my life. So, on balance, I’m OK with this.


  4. Pierre Igot says:

    The file name option in the “New Document” dialog in AI has no incidence on the issue I am describing here. Regardless of the file name you specify there, the new document created is unsaved under any name, and the “Save” command does not become enabled until you’re started adding content to the new document.

    My issue is not with Adobe’s choice to make the creation of a new document a multiple-step process. My issue is with the fact that, until some content is added to the newly created document, the “Save” command is disabled and does not work as an equivalent to the “Save As…” command, as it does in all other Mac OS applications.

    Basically, Adobe’s reasoning appears to be that, until you’ve started adding content to your newly created document, all the other options are not worth saving.

    In other words, even if you carefully create a new document in AI with a custom page size and various other non-default settings in the “Document Profile” subsections and in the “Advanced” section, after that, if you do not add any content to the document, then you can still accidentally close the document (by accidentally pressing command-W or clicking on the red button) and AI will fail to warn you about unsaved content and will close the newly created document without saving any of the settings you’ve just carefully defined.

    I don’t think it’s right.

  5. henryn says:

    I think what you’re concerned about might be termed “Document Design Data”.

    The scenario is this: You put a lot of effort into creating an AI Document Design but because you never entered any illustration data, AI doesn’t remind you that you’ll lose something when you inadvertently hit “close”. Right?

    Hmmm, here’s a slightly silly example: You (or I) have a project that requires using AI to create a lot of baseball-card sized artwork files with very particular artboard setup and color modes, etc. — all setup available via the unique “New Document” menu. OK?

    Right, the hard work Apple did early on — well, I don’t think they ever considered Document Design Data. Why should they? Even now, years later, the design of a document is almost always mostly fixed by the application itself. Variations are handled by the “template” mechanism which evolved since.

    Hmmmm… If you set out to make a sketch using AI, this issue is fully taken care of by the application. If you set out to create a template, it isn’t. The nub of the problem is the uncertainty in any particular session. When you sit down to use AI an hour from now, are you creating an ordinary document or a template (or Document Design)?

    Well, the most direct solution would be for AI to include a Preference switch “Protect Document Design Data”. (That’s short, sweet and probably incomprehensible to most people. I’ve grown resigned to the fact that many, maybe most people aren’t very good at such abstractions.)

    The practical result would be that changes you implement via the “New Document” menu would trigger the standard data-protection mechanism, the dialog that includes the text “If you don’t save, your changes will be lost”.

    Conceptually, that would be quite easy. The devil would be in the details. Exactly what changes in the “New Document” dialog would qualify. Any at all? What about only changing the Units setting from Points to MM? Is that a change in Document Design Data? (Hmmm, Is Adobe considering adding further complexity to the “New Document” dialog?)

    Hmm, this would be parallel to sorting out what exactly should trigger the data-protection mechanism in the case of ordinary document data. For example, if you open a new document, draw a single item, then delete that item, should that trigger the standard data-protection mechanism? More details, more devil.

    I’m truly torn on this issue. On the one hand, I’d like computers to protect me against my own stupidity. On the other, the key words are “my own” — I’d like to be able to control the specific areas and degrees to which I’m protected (or not) . I know doing so potentially opens up a huge amount of complexity. I try to keep my eyes on the primary task. For AI, to me, that means using it to create illustrations.

    My gut feeling is that the current computing model we’re using just won’t practically support much more complexity in such respects. We probably need a new model before we’re going to make much progress.

    Back to the nub of the problem I mentioned above: the uncertainty of whether you are creating a specific illustration or a document design in any particular session. I think that most people, in most sessions, are sitting down to create an illustration. In the current model, creating a document design implicitly puts you in a kind of “expert mode” in which –arguably– disabling the standard data-protection mechanism is justified.

    My interpretation of your concern is that a user should not be put into “expert mode” without some kind of notice (or explicit choice) — but, well, that’s just not practical in the current model.


  6. Pierre Igot says:

    I don’t think we need to get overly “philosophical” about the whole thing. The bottom-line is this: In all other applications, even if you create a blank document and attempt to save it before adding any content to it, the “Save” command is enabled and works as a shortcut for “Save As…”. So regardless of the actual worth of document settings as data to be saved, the standard behaviour is that a newly created document is worth saving as soon as it is opened.

    Adobe does not follow that standard, and that really is all there is to it.

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